Now I'm sure that if you've been following my blog for longer than the last ten minutes, you will know that my very favourite thing is a Cottage Pie or a Shepherd's Pie. Doesn't matter which - both are as good as one another.
When I was in my early twenties, living away from home but close enough to visit every Friday and have dinner at my parents' house, my Mum would often make a Cottage Pie for me to take home. So there I'd be, in the very early days, riding home on my motorbike with a casserole dish full of deliciousness in my topbox. In later years, I'd be driving home in the car, with two lurcher dogs guarding the casserole dish.
|Convert this into a view made with mash & peas ...|
So began my love affair with mashed potato topped pies. I'll never lose my love for them, as no matter how many disappear down my throat, there's always room for one more.
Now circumstances have dictated that hubby has become the Cottage Pie chef in our house - largely because of my penchant for using it as medicine. So, whenever I'm under the weather, he'll make a Cottage or Shepherd's Pie and it seems to have the effect of injecting some life back into me. However, I had a yearning to make a Cottage Pie in the style of those I used to make when son & heir was just a wee lad (instead of the hulking great lump of boy he is now) and hubby was a big-shot I.T. man (which he still is, except not so many people notice, these days). A Cottage Pie with rich, deep, dark beefy flavours. One with *sharp intake of breath* baked beans in the mix. Oh don't look like that - it's just not a Cottage Pie without baked beans in there somewhere!
|Just look at the colour of that gravy - rich!|
There are about as many recipes for Cottage Pie as there are fleas on a hedgehog - in fact, I'd wager that there are probably more recipes than fleas - and that's saying something. I think everyone has their own special way of concocting the mince mixture, but the mash is probably very similar everywhere (unless you're one of these adventurous types who put mashed parsnip, or sweet potato on top). This recipe isn't the definitive recipe - this is just "my" recipe.
|Liberally sprinkled with cheese and full of delicious promise!|
I think what makes my recipe different from all the rest are the small touches - not all of which will be agreed with by the purists amongst us. Do I care? *pshaw!* Do I heck as like (which means "no", for those who don't speak Jenny).
For me, to begin with, it is important to get that touch of caramelisation on the mince, as this is what helps the flavour along. Drain the fat from the mince (or the mince from the fat, whichever works for you!) and reserve the meat. The fat can either go in your dog's dinner (for which he will be forever grateful), into a container for roast potatoes at a later date (mmmmn!) or if your conscience demands - in the bin. It's that touch of caramelisation that makes the difference between a flavourless steak and a steak with gorgeous rich beefy flavours. It's the same with mince - just in smaller bits.
Oh and yes, I know it's bad form to be using cop-out gravy granules (this is where the purists begin to raise their eyebrows and mutter about reducing stock) but the Bisto Best Rich Roasted granules are so tasty that it is an easy way to get a little more flavour in, whilst thickening your gravy. So shoot me. If you're passionately opposed to them, use flour, or gravy browning - whatever you want by way of thickening. You are looking for a quite thick, dry, consistency - one that won't allow lots of gravy to flood across the mash topping as it cooks - and gravy granules does that whilst adding another oodle of flavour. We're not cooking for The Ivy here, people - this is for the family - and yes, I appreciate that gravy granules are processed and all things processed are baaaad. *sigh* But it's just one dessertspoonful!
|These photographs are making my mouth water ..|
All the finely chopped vegetables have their role to play in flavour development, too. As the mixture cooks and the individual veggies melt into the gravy, so the flavour deepens. The leftovers (which are mine, all mine - get your hands off!) are just fantastic the next day. One day I'll be brave enough to make the pie a day before it will be required - but I'm too scared I might eat it in secret, sitting on the kitchen floor, in the dark, at 2 a.m., to have tried that approach yet!
My last recommendation is to use one of the Knorr "Rich Beef" Stock Pots. (There go the purists again!). They do two types of beef stock pot - so make sure you get the "Rich Beef" one, as it makes all the difference to the flavour. I used to swear blind that nothing had beef flavour like Oxo cubes - until I tried one of these Rich Beef Stock Pots. They have just swung my preference, for two reasons - they aren't so salty as Oxo cubes and also have a great richly roasted flavour. So there you are, of course it won't matter if you use home made beef stock, or Mulligatawny soup (although that might be a bit odd) - if it works for you, I'm not going to complain!
RICH BEEF COTTAGE PIE (feeds 3-4)
500g minced beef
1 onion, chopped finely
1 stick celery, de-stringed and chopped finely
1 carrot, diced finely
1 small garlic clove, crushed
2-3 chestnut mushrooms, chopped finely
200g tin of Heinz Baked Beans
a "Rich Beef" Knorr Stock Pot
200ml hot water
a tsp of Bovril
a dessertspoonful of tomato puree
a dessertspoonful of tomato ketchup
2 tsp of Worcestershire sauce
a dessertspoonful of Bisto Best Beef gravy granules (optional)
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
4-5 medium Maris Piper potatoes, peeled and each cut into 4 or 6 chunks
100ml warm milk
a heavy-handed knob of butter (as large as your conscience will allow)
a generous handful of grated mature cheddar cheese.
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180degC/350degF/Gas4.
2. Heat a deep frying pan on a high heat and add the mince. Fry until all the water has evaporated, the fat is rendering out and the meat is beginning to caramelise. This can take up to 10 minutes - so be patient! Drain the the fat away and reserve the meat.
3. Leaving a little of the fat in the pan, reduce the heat and add the onions, celery and carrots. Fry until the onion is softened and a light golden colour and the vegetables have softened. Add the mushrooms and garlic and continue to fry for 2 minutes or so.
4. Add the meat back into the pan and mix well.
5. Add in the baked beans, the contents of the stock pot, water, Bovril, tomato puree, tomato ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and stir well. On a medium heat, allow the contents of the pan time in which to heat through and simmer for another 15 minutes or so, to enable all the flavours to amalgamate.
6. Now this next bit is optional - but if your gravy is looking a little bit thin at this stage, I use a small amount of Bisto's Best Beef Gravy Granules to thicken it.
7. Taste for seasoning and add some sea salt & freshly ground black pepper, as required.
8. Leave the meat mixture to simmer slowly on a low heat and boil a pan of salted water for your potatoes.
9. Once the potatoes are tender (and fall off a knife easily), drain them and return them to the pan. Add the warm milk, butter and seasoning and mash like crazy until you are sure all the lumps have disappeared.
10. Decant the meat mixture into a deep casserole dish and add blobs of mashed potato on top. Lightly, with a fork, blend the edges of each blob until you have a seamless mashed potato topping with a fluffed up surface.
11. Scatter the grated cheese on top and place into the oven to bake for 45 minutes or until the top is golden brown and crunchy looking.